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Fire hinders Southeast agencys efforts to help destitute and homeless

by: Courtesy of Human Solutions This photo, snapped by a Human Solutions contractor, shows the devastation on the building’s roof.

Even though it was a Sunday, several workers were busy on October 18th in the main office of the nonprofit organization Human Solutions at 12350 S.E. Powell Boulevard, getting ready for their 'busy season', helping families in need.

October is when Human Solutions begins its annual drive to help thousands of very low-income families who live in a large area from the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood in Inner Southeast eastward as far as Gresham to obtain energy assistance - vouchers, to help them 'keep the lights on' during the cold winter months. The organization provides other services to low-income families as well.

'Fire alarms in the building went off, alerting our people to get out of the building,' recalled their Executive Director, Jean DeMaster, as she walked through the now-vacant office building. The fire scared them tremendously. Some of the staff people were sitting right under where the fire broke out - it was only eight feet above their desks.'

Although the result of that roof blaze is devastating, DeMaster added, 'There were two fortunate things. First, all of our people got out without injury. Second, a passing fire truck saw the fire, called for help, and immediately began fighting it.'

'At 12:50 pm, firefighters from Portland Fire and Rescue's Station 7 arrived at the scene, with an engine and truck, and found flames coming through the roof,' confirmed PF and R spokesman Lt. Justin de Ruyter.

Two fire crews used aerial ladders to extend hose lines to the roof and quickly knock down the blaze, de Ruyter added. 'The fire was contained to the roof.'

After firefighters ventilated the building, it was clear that the blaze had caused extensive smoke and water damage to most of the building.

'One section of roof was completely missing,' DeMaster said, as she pointed out the spot, now covered temporarily. 'All our computers, furniture, and files had to be taken out to be cleaned and dried off. The soot is so heavy on the wallpaper; it will have to be stripped off.'

Speaking to THE BEE over the roaring din of drying blowers and dehumidifiers, DeMaster said the loss of use of the building, owned by the City of Portland and leased to Human Solutions, was a continuing tragedy.

'Many low-income people don't drive. Having our Southeast Portland building out of service - until as late as Thanksgiving - means that these clients, from throughout Southeast Portland, will need to travel out to our Rockwood offices in Gresham for our services.'

And, the displacing of 17 of their workers couldn't have come at a worse time, either, commented DeMaster. 'We're just starting up our 'energy assistance' program for the season, which serves as many as 3,000 households. Because we serve clients who speak 20 languages, helping them to know that assistance is still available - but now, at a different location - is challenging.'

Additional services provided from the temporarily-shuttered Southeast Portland office include homelessness and eviction prevention, services to help households who are already homeless, and employment counseling.

'We're trying to reassure people in the Brentwood-Darlington and other communities that despite October 16th's fire, services will still be available,' DeMaster said. 'For the next month, services will be delivered from temporary locations. Right now, people in need can access services at the Human Solutions' Rockwood location at 124 N.E. 181st Avenue in Gresham. The phone number is 503/405-7875.'

PF and R investigators subsequently announced that the fire's cause was an open torch being used by a roofing contractor working at the building at the time the blaze broke out.

To learn more about Human Solutions, which directly helps 30,000 people every year, or to make a contribution, go online to their Internet website: www.humansolutions.org .